I’m one of those game nerds who’s seriously not into real world sports. Never really have been and probably never will be. But if you go from real world to something weird – like say playing football in the Warhammer universe – then you’ve got my interest. This is almost entirely why I’m currently writing about Baseball Highlights: 2045 – a sort of mini-deck builder for one to four players, from designer Mike Fitzgerald and publisher Eagle Games. Or heck, it’s pretty much why I even tried it in the first place.
It’s vintage (1920s-30s style) baseball with robots and cyborgs. I mean come on!
I honestly didn’t even know that Baseball Highlights: 2045 was a thing until I found it during a random search for solitaire-friendly board games to buy. Even then I probably wouldn’t have bothered looking into it if not for that ridiculously awesome box art. But once I saw that it was essentially like the old NES game Base Wars (remember Base Wars?) in board game form, I was immediately sold. A bit of a gamble, I admit, but it definitely paid off.
I’m absolutely in love with this game from a thematic standpoint. The mere concept of playing futuristic baseball with un-augmented humans, cyborgs, and robots is more than enough to make me happy, but the sort of futuristic-retro aesthetic really excites me. I dunno, there’s just something about a thing being both old-timey and futuristic that always makes me a little giddy. The artwork from Bill Bricker and Jacob Walker is also fantastic, which doesn’t hurt.
Diana: I have to admit, when you described it to me the whole “baseball with robots” thing piqued my interest, too. And you know how I feel about deck builders.
Rob: Oh I know.
A little bit of the theme manages to come through in the gameplay, but truth be told it could probably be any kind of baseball thing and it would work okay. It’s the pictures on the cards that really say “retro future.” Still, it’s a fun game with or without the robots. But I do like those robots.
Baseball Highlights: 2045 is sort of like a deck builder, but with very tiny decks. And you’re not so much building as you are updating, enhancing, and replacing. Everyone has a basic deck of 15 cards representing 15 players, and over the course of a game (the best of seven “rounds” comprised of a single game between two teams) you’re able to take the income generated from the players you’ve used – because TV ratings – and hire newer, more talented players to replace them.
What’s really interesting is that your deck never gets any bigger. Whenever you hire a new player you have to send another that you’ve used back to the minor leagues (i.e. remove them from the game). So in addition to simply generating enough income to hire better players, you also need to figure out who to cut to make room for the new hires.
Diana: That got to be really hard after a few games because I couldn’t decide between hiring someone that was really good but didn’t earn much money, or someone who generated a lot of money but wasn’t as good.
Rob: Believe me, I know the feeling. And I kind of love how you need to make those decisions. I’m pretty sure I severely hampered myself by sending low value players to the minors, because it left me with high value rookies that didn’t really help much during a game.
Being broken up into a series of smaller games is also an interesting idea that works quite well. A basic game starts with three regular games that both determine who starts at the Home team in the World Series as well as gives players a chance to improve their deck before the series starts. Once that’s done it’s a race to see who can win four out of seven official games, with more drafts in between. Whoever manages to win the World Series wins Baseball Highlights: 2045!
It supports anywhere from one to four players, but the solo and two-player modes are where it shines the best. Not that the three-player Championship variant is bad, but it requires one player to eventually be eliminated so that the other two can have a best out of three face-off. The four-player Tournament is a similar story, with players breaking off into pairs and playing their own series, and then the winners of those games facing each other. Again, it’s not bad since the core game doesn’t really change and it’s still fun, but now two players are going to have to sit around and wait for the others to finish. It probably won’t take long since each standalone game only takes like 10-15 minutes to complete, but it just seems kind of “bleh” to me. Not to say that playing with more than two people is bad – just that it’s best with one to two.
Playing with two works a lot better simply because it’s obviously been designed for one-on-one play. And it’s a lot of fun that way! The same goes for solitaire because you’re basically playing a regular World Series, only it’s against a randomly selected “AI” deck. You can’t get into your opponent’s head when playing solo, but it’s still really fun and makes for great practice.
Rob: Some of the card ability descriptions gave me trouble, and some still do, but the biggest issue I’ve had with this is the base running.
Diana: It didn’t seem all that bad to me.
Rob: Yeah but by then I’d managed to scour a bunch of internet forums for the answers I needed. As written in the rulebook it seems like a needlessly complicated process and I had to preemptively stop a couple of my solo attempts because I just wasn’t getting it. It’s better now, though.
Diana: Weren’t you also saying something about expansions at one point?
Rob: Yes! I managed to get the “Super-Deluxe” edition, which comes with seven expansions. We didn’t play with any of them.
Diana: Too complicated?
Rob: Not really. Most of them just add more players you can draft, and maybe a few new abilities. The problem is that the default 60 card deck is just small enough to shuffle without any real problems. Add in the expansions and it becomes a huge, unwieldy mess. It’s perfectly playable, but a pain to shuffle everything up.
Diana: I think I feel a rant coming on.
Rob: And even with all the expansions, plus the base game, plus the wooden runner pawns, the box is still like three times bigger than it needs to be!
Diana: I knew it!
Mildly confusing rules and ridiculously oversized box aside, I absolutely adore Baseball Highlights: 2045. It has a great look and theme, is lots of fun, and manages to be pretty simple once you get the hang of it while still requiring a decent amount of strategy. If you’re a fan of baseball, robots, retro-future aesthetics, or deck builders, you should definitely give it a look!